I will tell you this – HALLOWEEN III: Season of the Witch is one of my favorite bad movies. It has become a seasonal tradition with me. This year I did not need to rent the video, since AMC included it in its Horror Movie, Month-long Halloween Marathon. I caught about 80 percent of the movie the other night, which was enough of the movie. Heck, I probably missed that much in previous years changing and folding laundry while it was on.
This installment of the John Carpenter franchise is, by all rational accounts, a complete failure. Not only was it made on a shoestring budget, but it bombed at the box office. But the damage of that was all absorbed by Carpenter’s intention to forge the HALLOWEEN movies into yearly installments in an ongoing holiday-themed serial anthology, not Michael Myers bulging jumpsuit. Since the movie disappoints so many, they need to fill the void with trivia and quotes. So all the movie’s storied apocrypha is well documented elsewhere.
However, I think the movie has some really effective aspects, the least of which picks up on the whole mean-spiritedness of trick or treating. This mean-spirit does not refer to childish pranks or other mischievousness, but rather the atmosphere of fear and sadism that settled around the holiday in the late 1970s. The prevalent fear that the trick or treat ritual hand delivered child victims to the doorsteps of depraved predatory adults. The whole razor blades in the apples fear, that compelled parents’ need to check for malicious tampering of all our candied loot.
The best theme of HALLOWEEN III has to be the very idea that the country’s most successful costume company was founded, only, to bring about some sort of pagan druid cult end of the world thing. The release of the old gods by crushing the heads of America’s children is a truly horrifying concept. Plus doing it through television and latex masks is just kinky.
The Halloween latex hood mask was made into a palpable horror fetish object by the first HALLOWEEN movie. The heavy breathing, as each measured breath is contained, built the suspense in a new way. The audience was inside with the killer, and all but smelled the atmosphere under Michael Myer’s mask – the claustrophobia builds as his foul breath mixes with the smell of chemical plastics, the sweat and rubbery-ness of the mask as it heats against the skin. Then there is the camera peeking out of the stiff eye slits. His vision distorted, confined, and razor-sighted straight ahead – the predator’s fixed vision, oblivious to what lurks behind and structurally unable to take in the useless periphery.
All those attributes ascribed by the point of view in the first HALLOWEEN movie come into play in the third movie. But the fetish of the mask is expanded upon as well. For instance, the danger (suffocation) of the latex mask is heightened, since these masks literally kill. Or how these masks subvert the purpose of transformation – the imaginative world of children’s pretend shifted over to the transubstantiation area of ritual sacrifice.
In other words, the playfulness by which the child imagines herself a skeleton when donning the mask becomes the weapon of actual mutilation by sacrificing the child who wears it. This sacrificial aspect of these masks is made implicit by the villain’s expository monologue before entrapping the hero in an easily escapable demise. Which, fittingly, is to strap Dr. Dan Challis (THE FOG’s Tom Atkins) to a chair and place a Silver Shamrock mask over his head while the tv flashes the pixilated Magic Pumpkin while blurting out the jingling kill music
The fact that the adult is able to escape his fate, extends the sacrificial implications – an adult is not innocent, pure, and his loss is not a suitable oblation. Contrast, Challis’ active resistance against Little Buddy’s rapt attention, for further proof. And what is Stonehenge but “…an ancient, sacrificial circle…”
This leads to some interesting things the movie seems to say about the emerging mediascape of modern childhood.
First, HALLOWEEN III is a pretty clear statement on the rotting effects television was supposedly having on children, most notably advertising that was directed at them. In 1982, when the movie was released the proliferation of commercials aimed specifically at children had begun to bloom into a clamor for federal deregulation of FCC rules governing what sorts of claims and products could be marketed to children.
This movie makes the subtle claim, through the repeated and ubiquitous viewing – it’s on every tv screen in the movie – of the Silver Shamrock Halloween mask commercial. Added to this over-saturation critique is the marketing strategy of a competition (the big drawing at nine!) which incentivizes the masks. These masks and the commercials that compel you to buy them, ultimately, turn your brain to mush.
Second, it was brought up, once, that the major problem with HALLOWEEN III’s plot is that there is no way kids would all want to be the same thing for tricks or treats. Even though there are three glow in the dark options, it is still hard to believe that the kids in America would be content to limit their costume choices like this. Sure, there are cut away scenes to kids who are wearing the masks with their clown, ghosts, and princess costumes, but still, it does stretch the limits of credulity.
Unless the movie is making a further point about the growing conformity of children based on their exposure and consumption of media, most notably tv ads. The uniformity of the masks does harken back to various consumer fads – like the pet rock. And in the post STAR WARS era of merchandizing every single frame of film, does such a satiric element seem that farfetched? Not really.
The last thing, I will say about this fantastic movie is about the slightly anti-corporate sentiments aimed at the Silver Shamrock Co. While this company is downright mom and pop compared to the mega-corporations that will close out the 80s – think Cyberdyne Systems Corporation or Omni Consumer Products or the Nakatomi Corporation. I mean they still deal with independent sales people!
Yet Silver Shamrock is distinctive in several ways. For instance, the whole company and the whole town are just an empty shell, a front, hiding the nefarious goings on in the factory warehouse. The loud speakers announcing curfew and the lingering shots of the empty factory yards really do manage to create a creepy mood.
Or what about the fact that Silver Shamrock’s entire operation is run by androids – ROBOTS!! The great Reagan Era fear of factory line obsolescence, the auto worker being kicked off the assembly line to be replaced by a tireless, errorless big yellow robotic arm, comes to its absurd conclusion at Silver Shamrock.
While the movie fails on quite a number of levels, like the acting and effects, the general idea is solid. In fact, I think it fits perfectly into the B-Movie cannon alongside the other horror movies that attempted complex decoding of social philosophy and political trends through the gore splattered screens of splattered brains and oozing toxic goop.